On February 11, 1858, Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to Saint Bernadette 18 times at the Grotto of Massabielle. The visions took place three years after Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
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After the first apparition, Bernadette’s mother commanded her to stay away from the grotto. However, on February 14, she was allowed to return and Our Lady appeared again. Bernadette did not know her name and referred to her as “the beautiful lady.”
On February 18, the third appearance, Our Lady spoke for the first time, asking Bernadette to return to the grotto for the next fifteen days. She promised Bernadette happiness in the next world, but not in this one.
During the next three apparitions, the crowd that accompanied Bernadette steadily increased. Some came out of curiosity while some came because they believed a miracle was taking place. Our Lady told Bernadette to always bring a blessed candle with her when she came to the grotto. This started the tradition of perpetually burning candles at the grotto.
Bernadette was questioned by the authorities who threatened to imprison her if she kept returning to the grotto. Our Lady did not appear on February 22. Bernadette was crushed and the people made fun of her.
On February 23, the seventh apparition, Our Lady told Bernadette three secrets that she never revealed to anyone. During the eighth apparition, on February 24, Our Lady told Bernadette to kiss the ground in reparation for sinners. She also said,
“Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners.”
The Healing Spring
On February 25, the ninth visit, Our Lady told Bernadette to drink from the fountain and wash herself. There was no fountain at the Grotto of Massabielle so Bernadette went to drink from the river. Our Lady pointed to a rock in the grotto. Bernadette went and found a small, muddy puddle. She tried to drink four times, succeeding the fourth time. The following day, the puddle overflowed. Then, it became a stream. As the days passed, the stream grew and since then, millions of people have bathed in the water and have been healed. Bernadette said,
“One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith.”
On February 28, the eleventh appearance, Our Lady told Bernadette that she wished to have a chapel built near the grotto and to have people come in procession. On March 3 and 4, Bernadette asked the lady to reveal her name, but she received only a smile.
Finally, during the sixteenth appearance on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, Our Lady revealed her identity saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
On June 8, the mayor of Lourdes placed a fence and guards around the grotto to prevent people from going. Those who knelt by the grotto or spoke about it were fined.
Our Lady’s eighteenth and final appearance took place on July 16, the day of Bernadette’s First Communion. Bernadette knelt outside the gate for the last time and she said Our Lady appeared more beautiful than ever.
The grotto reopened in October 1858 by decree of Emperor Louis Napoleon III. On January 18, 1862, the Church approved Bernadette’s visions as supernatural and authentic. Pope Pius X called Lourdes the “throne of power and mercy of Mary” and in 1907, he extended the celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes to the whole Church and throughout the world.
It was agreed that Bernadette’s testimony was more believable because of her simplicity and ignorance. Her confessor repeated often:
“The greatest proof of the apparitions is Bernadette herself; her life.
Each year, millions of people still visit the grotto and the Church that was build in Lourdes, seeking the intercession of Our Lady. Many healing and conversions have taken place there and Lourdes is the third most popular pilgrimage site for Catholics; the Rome and the Holy Land are the first two. Pope Saint John Paul II, the first Pope to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, declared the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, February 11, World Day of the Sick. Our Lady of Lourdes is the patron of bodily ills.
The Message of Lourdes
Since the visions at Lourdes are considered private revelation and add nothing to the Deposit of Faith, Catholics are not obliged to believe in the visions of Bernadette. However, Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes can teach us much about the value of virtues such as purity, humility, and mercy. They can also teach us the importance of prayer, penance, the Rosary, caring for the sick, and of valuing happiness in Heaven more than the comforts of this world.
Our Lady’s appearance at Lourdes to a simple, poor girl can help us see the beauty in poverty and can remind us that our Mother knows us, loves us, and is always with us.
“For those you believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.” From The Song of Bernadette
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!